Laboratory analysis data storage and retrieval are a major concern for laboratories for the following reasons:
- Results communicated can lead to acceptance or rejection of consignments
- In case of disputes analysis results can be revalidated
- Analytical results generated by forensic and other certified laboratories are admissible as evidence in legal disputes
- Results of research projects can provide useful guidance for future continuation of related work by other scientists
Traditionally analysis results were stored as hard copies in form of laboratory records such as worksheets, graphical presentations, laboratory notebooks and analysis reports. Such records, however, are vulnerable to loss due to mismanagement, fires or other natural disasters and also subject to manipulation.
Today modern laboratories adopt electronic means of data storage and retrieval which can be both on-site as well as at a remote site.
On-site storage media
Floppy disks were popular about 2 to 3 decades back. However, due to storage space limitations they have become obsolete
External Hard disks superseded floppy disks on account of their higher storage capacities and ease of use. External hard disks could be connected via local interfaces such as SCSI, USB and also over longer distances through Ethernet or fiber channels. A disadvantage of hard disks has been their susceptibility to damage and stability of data over long term storage
Optical storage devices such as CDs, DVDs or Blue-ray discs. Such media are easy to handle, portable and maintain data integrity over long periods but have lower storage capacities in comparison to hard disks and magnetic tapes
Solid-state devices such as digital cards and USB flash drives offer a convenient option as they are both removable and rewritable and have storage capacities above 500 GB or even up to 2 TB. Such devices can be even carried in the pocket
Magnetic tapes afford bulk storage of large volumes of data. Due to sequential access medium retrieval of data can be slow but the rate of writing or reading can be very fast
Disadvantages of onsite storage
On- site backups are usually stored in the laboratory building and can get destroyed in fires or natural calamities such as floods or earthquakes
Online storage can be in the form of an internal hard disk in the system which stores data almost simultaneously in fractions of a second. Online storage is susceptible to being deleted, overwritten by accident or through malafide intentions.
Remote site data protection or cloud computing
Cloud computing or remote site data protection involves transmission of data over a proprietary or public network to an off-site server. The server is hosted and maintained by a third party service provider against payment decided on the basis of capacity, bandwidth or number of users
Advantages of cloud computing
- Data is secure as it is free of natural calamities or accidents in the laboratory
- 128 – 448 bit encryption provides security to the files. Encryption provides security backup even if data is sent over an unsecure network
- Encrypted data storage at service provider location is safe as it cannot be read without the encryption key
- Backup at remote site does not disturb your routine activities as it is automatic. You can even keep a track on what was stored at what time during the day
- Online backup saves costs on both hardware and software required for on-site storage which further contributes to savings in terms of energy consumption
- Your online backup provider takes care of data backup and its security. This gives you freedom from worries related to data loss or alteration by vested interests
Disadvantages of cloud computing
- Data transfer speed is dependent on available network bandwidth, upload limits or firewalls set up by the service provider
- In case service provider goes out of business or there is a change of ownership accessibility or usage terms may get affected over some period of time
- Loss of encryption password will make access to data impossible
The advantages offered by remote site data backup far outweigh the disadvantages and in the long run offer an ideal solution to storage of large volumes of data and access it whenever the need arises.